Imagine feeling great about the way your restaurant cares for the environment and the future. That would be cool, right?
Recently, more restaurants and clients are starting to care about “going green” and are becoming aware of the little things that add up to make a large negative impact on the environment.
One example of this is the way lots of restaurants are banishing single-use plastic straws, as straws are a major culprit when it comes to plastic pollution.
But what are the alternatives to plastic straws? After all, customers may not like it if you just start serving them drinks without straws.
Ready to learn what agave straws are and how they could help your business while saving the environment?
Let’s get started.
Why Use Eco-Friendly Straws and Dinnerware?
We have all heard buzzwords like “carbon footprint,” “eco-friendly,” “sustainable,” and “green.” Sustaining the earth is a hot topic right now, and there are so many programs, pledges, and even diets promoting eco-friendly practices.
Why all the fuss? What is the big deal about these future generations anyway? And is it truly important that you as an individual get involved?
Let’s find out!
The problem with plastic
Most restaurant owners, chefs, or caterers use plastic or styrofoam dinnerware because inexpensive and easy to use and clean up. However, the plastic we use to cut down on work and cost has a dark side.
Some of that plastic ends up in landfills, but more than we like to think ends up in our oceans. In the oceans, plastic can suffocate, entangle, and kill marine species like turtles and seabirds.
For example, small pieces of plastic can look appetizing to birds and be swallowed. But the birds cannot digest the plastic, so it stays in their stomach and takes up space. If a bird overeats on plastic, it will not be able to eat any real, nutritious food because its stomach is full of undigested plastic. Because it can’t eat real food, it slowly starves to death.
The same thing can happen to sea turtles and other marine fauna. And bits of plastic can be hazardous in other ways too. Plastic can choke or strangle animals, or harm them in even more bizarre ways, like this sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nose.
However, the problem goes further than killing albatrosses and turtles. It can harm humans too.
You see, plastic never actually completely degrades. It is non-biodegradable, which means microorganisms cannot break it down like they do most waste. The result is that it takes over 200 years for plastic to break down by itself.
The issue is that those bits of plastic never go away. They are called microplastics, and even though you cannot see them, they are present all over the place. In fact, they make up 85% of the plastic in the environment. Researchers have found microplastics in about a quarter of the seafood in our markets, in table salt, bottled water, and 94% of the tap water samples in the US.
And what do these microplastics do? Do they actually harm anyone?
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Microplastics are a nasty material to have floating around the environment, and they can cause cancer, genetic disruptions, and other ill effects in animals and humans alike. It’s terribly hard to sift microplastics out of the environment, so the best solution to the problem is to try our best to stop adding them as soon as we can.
After all, we seem to have already let our plastic pollution issues get away from us. To give you some perspective, experts predict that if things stay on the current trajectory, then by 2050, the plastic in the ocean will outweigh the fish. That is a lot of plastic!
How do plastic straws add to the problem?
When it comes to single-use plastics that end up in the ocean, straws are a significant culprit. They are one of those small pieces of plastic you only use once, throw away, and never think twice about.
Said 7.7 billion people…
In the US alone, we use 500 million plastic straws every day. That adds up, folks!
And straws are particularly prone to ending up in waterways. Because they are so light, they often blow out of trash cans, garbage trucks, or boats and end up in the water. Besides that, many people litter them on the beach, where they have a straight path to the ocean.
And remember that once it’s in the ocean, the plastic in those millions and millions of straws will stick around for several hundred years unless it's removed.
What Are Agave Straws?
As we said, the best solution to our plastic problem is to STOP adding to it as soon as possible. The plastic is not going away, but we don’t have to add any more.
To do that, we will have to find ways to get around using plastic. Does that mean we have to stop using straws altogether?
No. There are plenty of eco-friendly options out there we can use instead. One alternative that creative researchers have come up with is agave straws.
Agave straws are made from the byproducts of Tequila manufacturing. Tequila is made from agave plants, but clearly, the whole plant does not end up in the bottle. Once the agave juices are extracted from the plant, there are a lot of stringy fibers left behind.
Researchers have found a way to use these agave fibers to replace about 30% of the plastic in straws. Add some biodegradation-promoting additives, and you have an eco-friendly straw that decomposes 200 times faster than a plastic straw!
Plus, the straws are completely recyclable and provide a plastic-like experience for the consumer.
Who came up with the idea of agave straws?
It makes sense that the people with the most spare agave fibers on hand would be the ones to come up with the idea of agave straws.
That would be Jose Cuervo, the world’s largest producer of tequila. For years the company has been learning how to utilize the massive amounts of agave fibers left over from tequila production. They have come up with some fantastic ideas, such as alternatives to paper, bricks, and even fuel, and recently they came up with the idea of creating straws. They call their efforts to use their leftovers the Agave Project.
By partnering with BioSolutions Mexico and PENKA, they figured out how to make it happen. Jose Cuervo plans to roll out millions of agave straws in the future, hoping to help replace single-use plastic straws.
What are agave straws like for the consumer?
Agave straws feel like plastic in your mouth only with a bit of texture from the agave fibers. That makes sense since they are still partially made of plastic. The upside of this is that they won’t get soggy like a paper straw, and they can be reused.
However, don’t expect agave straws to come in a lot of bright colors. They are a natural brownish color, and you can see a few darker flecks of agave fiber in them. They aren't your brightly colored pinwheel party straws.
Ways to use agave straws
You can use agave straws for everything you use plastic straws for. They won’t get soggy like paper straws, and you can reuse them if you like. You can also use them for both hot and cold beverages.
A few beverages you could use agave straws for include:
- Coffee and tea
- Soft drinks
And almost any other drink you can think of! Agave straws would look good with all types of natural themes and decor, such as an outdoorsy-themed garden party or birthday bash. Just don't look for a lot of bright, vibrant colors.
Alternatives To Agave Straws
Of course, agave straws are not the only plastic alternative out there. There are other types of biodegradable straws you can try out.
Here are a few of the different types.
A common and inexpensive alternative to plastic, paper straws come with several pros and cons. One good thing about them is that they are inexpensive. They are also entirely biodegradable, meaning they will break down completely in just a few days.
However, with paper, you have to deal with the sogginess factor. Paper isn’t the most durable material, so paper straws tend to get soggy before you finish your drink, and start sagging and leaving little paper bits on your lips–not so pleasant!
Also, according to this article, it takes the same amount of energy to make one paper straw as it does to make 1,000 plastic straws. Deforestation is also an environmental issue, so paper straws' net effect may not be much better than that of plastic.
AirCarbon is an amazing new technology that actually leaves a negative carbon footprint. Scientists discovered how to create this material by feeding methane, a greenhouse gas, to ocean microbes. The microbes consume the methane and produce AirCarbon materials as a byproduct. These materials can be purified and shaped into different things like dinnerware and straws.
Because methane is consumed to produce AirCarbon, each Aircarbon item is like a little chunk of pollution that could have been in the atmosphere. But instead, it’s been turned into a functional product.
Strange but true!
AirCarbon straws feel like plastic, and you can use them for both hot and cold drinks without getting soggy. They are also 100% plastic free and you can compost them at home once you are done with them.
Wheat straws are simply a piece of cut wheat stem. Because wheat stems are naturally hollow, you can cut a piece off and use it as a straw basically as-is.
One good thing about this system is that wheat stems are a byproduct of wheat production, so there is no deforestation involved. The stems are not a profitable part of the wheat plant, so they are cut off and either used for animal bedding, compost, or disposed of in some other way.
Wheat straws are made by cutting the wheat stems to length and then cleaning, drying, and baking them to give them extra strength. They won’t get soggy or leave a taste in your drink, and you can use them for both hot and cold beverages.
After you use them, you can simply throw them on your compost pile! Plus, wheat straws are similar in price to paper straws. However, like agave straws, don't look for wheat straws in lots of bright colors.
Reusable metal straws
There are tons of great plastic alternative options out there. But some restaurants don’t offer these alternatives. I mean, wheat straws are fantastic, but when was the last time you ordered a drink at a place that gave you one?
If you are an individual that wants to conserve, consider investing in a reusable metal straw. Metal straws are easy to keep in your car, purse, or pocketbook. Then when you go to a place that doesn’t offer plastic straw alternatives, you can request no straw in your drink and use your own.
A metal straw is reasonably inexpensive and should last you a lifetime. Plus, it is one small way you, as an individual, can make a small difference.
Do your actions matter?
“One straw isn’t a big deal.”
Said 7.7 billion people…
That mindset has been filling our oceans with more plastic than fish. What if 7.7 billion people said, “I will do what I can to help in small ways” instead?
The small, positive actions add up just like the small, negative options. If you are a restaurant owner, consider switching to agave straws instead of plastic or go a step further and use all eco-friendly dinnerware.
And what if you are an individual?
Consider investing in a reusable metal straw, as well as patronizing eco-friendly businesses.
There are tons of great plastic alternative options out there. But some restaurants don’t offer these alternatives. I mean, wheat straws are fantastic, but most restaurants don't offer them.
Will we ever completely solve all our problems and create a perfect world? Of course not. But small things like these can help solve some of our issues and improve our imperfect world.
We hope this article was enjoyable and informative.
Pick On Us also offers various eco-friendly dinnerware options, including AirCarbon straws, bamboo straws, and paper straws.
Here are a few of our other collections of eco-friendly dinnerware:
At Pick On Us, our passion is creating disposable tableware that leaves no impact on the earth. If you are in the food service and you want to live sustainably, check out our website today!
Here’s to the future!